A project that started in a University of Calgary first-year design class five years ago is making its way to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Engineering Prof. Clif­ton Johnson was looking at speedskating crash pads with Mount Royal College instructor Sean Maw when they decided to put the project to the class to see what ideas they would come up with.

“What we realized is that speedskating crash pads are extremely complicated,” Johnson said. “With 180 groups of four students, you’re bound to come up with interesting ideas. The apparatus we used for the projects is the same one we use now.”

Johnson and Maw had to measure the force that an average speedskater would hit the crash pads surrounding the rink. To do so, they build a 16-foot pendulum with a 120-pound steel barrel and hit the pads at different speeds, seeing if the barrel would bounce back or if the pads would absorb the impact.

They also had to consider the numerous stipulations the Olympics demand. For example, the pads cannot move as much as the ones at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.

“If this was any normal rink it would have been easier, but because it was the Olympics there were a lot of criteria,” Johnson said. “It took a good six months just to lay out all their constraints. But everyone was comfortable with what we were building. I think the end result is the best-performing pads possible.”

Adds Maw: “Another thing we are very proud of is how much easier the pads will be for the maintenance staff to work with. They are going to be happy that these pads (complete with doors built in) are easy to work with, to move, and to maintain.”

Not only will their crash pads make it to the Olympics, they are also re-doing the Calgary system at the Olympic Oval.

The real-world project Maw and Johnson completed has made an impression on their students, said Maw.

“One thing I love about research is it makes me a better teacher,” Maw said. “This project has reconfirmed some things for me and has taught me a few things that I can add to my design and engineering classes.”

Johnson and Maw are beginning to be approached by international speedskating groups to design pads for their team.